The Irrational Belief Modification Tool

Posted on December 14, 2010


In my last post, I discussed one of the most common irrational beliefs many of us believe to be true. I also promised you a coaching tool to help you tackle that irrational belief and so here it is! But I can’t take all the credit for this.

I created this coaching tool from the work of Albert Ellis (who founded the Center for Rational-Emotive Therapy). I modified some of Ellis’s therapeutic techniques to make them more coaching-appropriate and also reworked some of his ideas so that they would be relevant for relationship issues.

This tool is surprisingly simple and yet very effective (I should know. I’ve been using it on myself quite a bit this holiday season). I hope you benefit from it greatly and, as always, I’d appreciate any feedback you may have about it.

Before you start, please read the following. (Some important pre-tool explanation):

Negative emotions and feelings are signals. They are signals that our body sends to us to tell us that there is a problem that needs to be solved.

Sometimes a problem needs you to take an action in order to solve it. Sometimes a problem is indicative of an irrational belief and needs some thought-dissolving work from you in order to solve it. In order to use this tool to effectively assist you, it’s imperative that you learn to tell the difference.

Let’s say, for example, that you come home to find that your roommate has borrowed your favorite white sweater without your permission. Let’s also say that said roommate has spilled red wine on the front of your favorite sweater. You’re feeling preeeetttttyyyy angry about this when you find out.

Your anger is a signal to you that there is a problem that needs to be solved.

In this example, doing some thought-dissolving work may help you to calm down but it will not solve the real problem here, which is that your friend has been disrespectful with your belongings and has ruined your favorite sweater.

A situation like this needs an action. In order to solve this problem, you’re going to have to have a conversation with your roommate, setting up some clear boundaries around borrowing-and returning-your stuff.

I say this because as I’ve been teaching Byron Katie’s “The Work” to people (another thought-dissolving tool) I’ve noticed that some clients actually use thought-dissolving work to avoid the uncomfortability of confronting people. Which, of course, doesn’t solve the problem if an action is required.

That’s why you’ll see a part of this exercise that specifically asks you what the best course of action would be, before you start trying to dissolve your irrational beliefs.

Ok, got it? Great. Here we go.


~Negative unhealthy emotions are: anger, anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, embarrassment, hurt and jealousy.

~Negative healthy emotions are: concern, sadness, annoyance, remorse, disappointment, and regret.

Step One: Notice and identify the unhealthy negative emotion/feeling you are having. A negative emotion is a signal that tells  you there is a problem that needs to be solved. (see above)

Step Two: What is the problem that needs to be solved? Do you need to take an action or are you holding onto an irrational belief? If you’re holding onto an irrational belief, go to Step Three.

*If the problem would best be solved through an action, skip the IBMT and take the action. If you’re finding yourself afraid to take the action you need to take, ask yourself why and see if you can then locate the IB behind your fear.

Step Three: State your irrational belief (ie: Everyone whom I love must love and approve of me).

Step Four: Then, ask yourself:

a) Is this belief true?

b) Is this belief logical?

c) Is this belief helping me?

Step Five: What self-defeating behaviors have you been participating in while you believed this irrational belief was true?

Step Six: What rational belief would you like to replace this irrational belief with?

Step Seven: What healthy negative emotion does the rational belief inspire? (see above)

Step Eight: What new constructive behaviors will you participate in to demonstrate your acceptance of this new, rational belief?

Step Nine: What will be the personal reward of participating in these constructive behaviors?

Step Ten: What will be the personal consequences of not participating in these constructive behaviors?

Later on this week, I’ll be sure to post an example of this tool in action. Meanwhile, have fun dissolving those irrational beliefs!

Posted in: Thought Work